The vital need for power from on high in gospel witness
I always look forward to Pentecost, for a number of reasons. And top of the list is that I came to know the Lord Jesus around the time of the annual festival, the only Jewish feast (known to them as Shavuot) still widely shared with Christians.
That said, most Western churches seem to make little fuss of Pentecost these days, which greatly distresses me as it’s about celebrating what is generally regarded as the birth of the Church!
In truth, it was the fulfilment of Yeshua’s promise of power from on high to enable his (Jewish) disciples to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. And that, in turn, fulfilled Joel’s promise of the Spirit being poured out on all flesh in the last days.
Pentecost is so called because it falls 50 days (Greek pente = fifty) after Passover as a feast celebrating the spring harvest, though also of the giving of the Law.
Peter’s Pentecost sermon on the Temple Mount certainly reaped an early harvest of souls, with 3,000 responding to his message calling for repentance of sins and faith in the risen Jesus, whom they had crucified.
But there’s a sense in which I will mark Pentecost this week – a fortnight early. For it was exactly a golden 50 years ago on Friday (May 20th) that I asked Jesus to come into my life, responding to a plea from a South African friend in my Jewish grandmother’s London home, where I lived at the time.
For the rest of that decade (the 1970s) I attended a lively central London church – All Souls, Langham Place – where I was thoroughly grounded in the faith with the help of a wonderful Jewish lady who led the so-called ‘nursery class’ for new Christians.
But it wasn’t until I moved up north to Yorkshire that I experienced my personal Pentecost by being baptised in the Spirit, which had the effect of emboldening me for witness in a way that had been missing until then.
That was over 40 years ago – and Pentecost, along with the importance of Jewish roots, continues to be a passion of mine.
Many suggest that it was the resurrection of Jesus that changed everything for the disciples, turning their fear into courage. But I dispute that. For they were told not to leave Jerusalem until they were empowered with the Holy Spirit.
The baptism of fire prophesied by John is what they needed to turn the fact of the resurrection into an act of dynamic witness born on the wings of God’s Holy Spirit – effectively Jesus now living within them (John 14:17).
Jesus also said the Spirit would lead us into all the truth (John 16:13). It was my Pentecostal encounter that not only emboldened me for service, but, over time, opened my eyes to the truth of the vital necessity of connecting with the roots of our faith – i.e. the olive tree that is Israel.
Addressing the Gentiles who were beginning to lord it over their Jewish brothers in the mixed congregation at Rome, Paul makes it abundantly clear: “You do not support the root, but the root supports you” (Romans 11:18). We are privileged to “share in the nourishing sap from the olive root” (v17).
It seems to me that the sap to which Paul refers is effectively one and the same thing as the Holy Spirit, who gives life to our witness and nourishes our faith.
Pentecost is thoroughly Jewish, and if we re-connect with our Hebraic roots, we are sure to make fresh discoveries of God’s abundant treasure stores.
At Shavuot, as mentioned, Jews are also reminded of the giving of the Law at Mt Sinai, 50 days after celebrating their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
For those who follow Yeshua, prefigured by Moses, these laws are no longer written on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3) – a beautiful fulfilment of what God said through the prophet Jeremiah, that “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jer 31:33).
I feel such a deep, unfathomable, gratitude to the Lord for his precious presence and guidance these past 50 years. Hallelujah!